Bullying and harassment in the workplace

Bullying and harassment in the workplaceWhat is bullying and harassment?

Bullying and harassment in the workplace is worryingly common and is becoming increasingly prevalent. 75% of participants in a recent study said that they had seen others being subject to or been a victim themselves of bullying or harassment at work.

With millions of working hours being lost due to sickness absences for work related stress, bullying and harassment has a negative effect on the economy aswell as impacting on the health and wellbeing of the victims and their loved ones.

Top Tips from Alex Monaco, Monaco Solicitors:

  1. Bullying takes many forms – if you feel you are being bullied you probably are
  2. You don’t have to suffer in silence – raise your concerns and seek to resolve them
  3. If you feel you need to resign, seek to negotiate an exit package before doing so

Examples of  bullying and harassment in the workplace

The definition of bullying and harassment should first be recognised. Bullying and harassment at work is defined by the ACAS guide as: “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.”

It provides the following examples of bullying:

  1. Spreading malicious rumours or insulting someone by word or behaviour; copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know;
  2. Ridiculing or demeaning someone – picking on them or setting them up to fail;
  3. Exclusion or victimisation;
  4. Unfair treatment;
  5. Overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position;
  6. Unwelcome sexual advances;
  7. Making threats or comments about job security without foundation;
  8. Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism;
  9. Preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities.

Options for dealing with bullying and harassment

What can you do about it if you are one of the unfortunate people who are being bullied or harassed at work? You should not suffer in silence if you can identify with any of the given examples. Your first step should be raising the matter with your employer, which can be done informally or formally by putting your complaint in writing.

Many employers, large ones in particular, will have a written policy against bullying and harassment under which you can make a complaint or raise a grievance under any grievance policy.

The action or behaviour you are complaining about should be set out in detail, making reference to who was involved, when it occurred, how it makes you feel and what you want your employer to do about it. You should gather your evidence to corroborate your account by contacting witnesses if any.

Employers could be lead to dealing with the matter head on and putting things right if a formal complaint or grievance is made. However, unfortunately, these processes are often strung out by employers with no intention of upholding the complaint or to do anything to address it. Even worse they may believe you to be a trouble-maker and will consider how to manage you out of the business or get rid of you in some other way. There are two options in this scenario: stay and fight for your rights, or leave.

If you decide to stay you should keep a diary to log your complaints so that you have a good record of the exact treatment that you are being subject to. Again, you should speak to witnesses and gather evidence as events occur. Legal action could also be contemplated.

Legal options to combat bullying and harassment

At present, there is surprisingly no single law directly prohibiting bullying and harassment per se in the workplace in the UK. There is limited legal protection in other laws, mainly:

Discrimination

You may have a potential claim for discrimination if the bullying or harassment suffered is based on grounds of sex, disability, race etc. Strict time limits apply in bringing your claim to an Employment Tribunal.

There is a deadline of 3months less one day from the date of the discrimination to commence the process of pursuing legal action in a tribunal. Submitting a grievance or other internal complaint will not be relevant to these deadlines.

Personal injury

You may have a potential claim for personal injury if it can be medically proven that you have suffered a physical or mental injury caused by the bullying and harassment which has led you to suffer financial loss e.g. loss of income whilst being on sick leave. Personal injury cases must usually be commenced within 3 years of the injury occurring.

Breach of contract

Regardless of whether or not terms are written, there are a number of obligations implied into every contract of employment. These will include obligations such as; the duty to deal with grievances without undue delay, the duty of trust and confidence etc.

If these duties are breached by your employer in relation to the bullying and harassment, leading to a financial loss, it may be the case that you have a potential claim for breach of contract. The deadline for for breach of contract cases is 6 years from the date of the breach occurring and can only be pursued in the courts whilst you remain in employment.

Constructive dismissal

You could potentially have a claim for constructive/unfair dismissal if you decide to resign on the back of being bullied and harassed at work, or resign in response to your employer’s failure to address it. In order to pursue this type of claim you must have been employed by your employer for atleast two years’ service prior to your resignation. The deadline to commence the process to pursue such a claim is 3 months less one day from the date your resignation took place.

Negotiating an exit

Staying at the employer and fighting for your rights, in the face of being bullied and harassed, when the employer refuses to address the issue is not for everyone. It can have a negative impact on your health and can take alot to resolve. In some senses it is a war of attrition; it could involve multiple grievances and counter-grievances with no certain end-results.

If the bullying and harassment consists of unfair performance management and your employer may be planning for this process to lead to your dismissal at some point, then your decision to stick it out may be short-lived.

Similarly, pursuing legal action in response to being bullied and harassed may not be a solution for everyone. This could be because your lawyer tells you that your case doesn’t have reasonable prospects of succeeding from a legal perspective or legal costs may be unaffordable. The other option available to you if you are in this situation is to leave your employer. In this case you will stand to lose your income going forward unless you have something else lined up or are confident you will get an equivalent job soon after and therefore, is obviously not something you will do lightly.

You should explore the possibility of your employer agreeing to pay you off and to leave under a settlement agreement if this is an option you are contemplating. This approach will avoid the time and stress of internal complaints procedures, and the time and cost of legal action whilst tiding yourself over financially between jobs.

Bullying and harassment is in itself not strictly illegal (as mentioned above you can only pursue legal action in certain circumstances: for discrimination, personal injury etc.) therefore, negotiating a decent settlement agreement may not always be straight forward.

To stand a better chance of using the right negotiation tactics to secure the best deal in your circumstance and being taken seriously, it would be advisable to use the services of an experienced negotiator such as a lawyer with expertise in this area or, if you have one, a trade union representative. You could also try to negotiate a deal yourself of course. Any negotiation should be done on a ‘without prejudice’ basis so that, until the deal is right for you, you will not have committed to leaving your employment.

Could Lex help?

If you need further advice and assistance with your employment matter, Lex may be able to help. Just get in touch here.

Alex MonacoAbout the author

Alex Monaco, Monaco Solicitors

A proponent of access to justice, I believe in publishing legal knowledge on the internet for individuals to access for free, so that people can at least be well informed about their rights, no matter how difficult those rights can be to implement sometimes.

I am passionate about helping individuals stand up to the might of the corporate machine, and am proud to have established a law firm which helps employees only.

As a Solicitor-Advocate (All Higher Courts) I am qualified to attend all courts and do the talking, in the same way that a barrister is. I have made good use of this qualification, appearing in many Employment Tribunals over the years, as well as the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal.

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